Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nuremberg Chronicle

Rare-book dealer Ken Sanders was volunteering at a fund-raising event, appraising books for visitors to Utah's Sandy Museum. A man stepped up and produced from a garbage bag a book so old its binding had disintegrated and its oversize pages were loose (1st image). How old? 1493! "It's considered to be one of the world's first illustrated books printed with movable type," says Sanders, who had never seen a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle outside of a rare book room. The book was the 15th century's equivalent of a history and travel book. It was compiled by Nuremberg physician and humanist scholar Hartman Schedel, illustrated by the leading artists of the day, and printed in Latin and German in editions totaling 2,500. The Nuremberg Chronicle is lavishly illustrated, one of the earliest integrations of pictures and text. "It has some 1800 woodcut illustrations in it. Every page has an illustration, which is highly unusual for a book of that antiquity," explains Sanders. Speaking of unusual, so are some of the illustrations themselves. Quoted in an English translation of the text, the author describes several miraculous creatures:

"Some are without heads, their eyes being in their shoulders" (1st image).

"Some have lower lips so large that they cover the entire face....Some have no tongues, and speak to one another in winks, in the manner of the cloister people....some people have ears so large that they cover the whole body" (2nd image).

"Others have very large feet and legs, but no paunches, and are marvelously fleet of foot. In the summertime, while lying on their backs, they protect themselves against the sun by the shade of their feet" (3rd image).

"Some are double-sexed, the right breast male, the left one female. They are indiscriminate in their associations with one another and bear children" (4th image).

The owner, who inherited the book, requested anonymity and is laying low until it is authenticated. Incunabula are exceedingly rare and this example may be worth as much as $100,000 if all the pages are there.

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